This past weekend, I played Atarka Red at #SCGDEN. While I have past experience piloting aggressive red decks, I haven't done so much this year. I hadn't played Atarka Red outside of last week's VS video with Brian Braun-Duin. The deck seemed simple enough as well as being powerful and reasonably positioned. It won #GPKobe as well as the Standard Premier IQ at #SCGNJ. Atarka Red has been doing well on Magic Online in leagues and various other events, proving that it's one of the best decks in Standard. Even if people are prepared with cards that are good against Atarka Red, the deck will rarely have a truly bad matchup against anything. Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense threaten to end the game on the spot as early as turn 3 and must be respected throughout any given game. Even a draw with multiple Monastery Swiftspears will put on enough early pressure to win in natural red deck style.
This is what I played to a Top 8 finish at #SCGDEN.
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 1 Goblin Heelcutter
- 2 Lightning Berserker
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Zurgo Bellstriker
I had fun with Atarka Red. It felt strong enough to be at the top of my list of Standard decks to play for the #SCGINVI in Las Vegas this weekend. I deferred a little on my card choices away from the stock build of Atarka Red, basically playing cards I liked and would make me happy having them in my 75. Goblin Heelcutter and Vaultbreaker weren't good, and Den Protector was a 2/1 that was hard to block, but it strained the manabase to have green early.
As much as I like Berserk + Invigorate, I didn't like Temur Battle Rage plus Become Immense very much, as I never cast Temur Battle Rage in conjunction with a pump spell throughout the whole tournament. The best I used it for was to give a Goblin token first strike when a Zulaport Cutthroat was blocking in a huge combat battle against Four-Color Rally. Temur Battle Rage is very bad without a pump spell and pretty useless in multiples as well.
Much like Splinter Twin decks in Modern, the threat of the combo is almost as important as the combo itself. I sideboarded out one or both Temur Battle Rages pretty often. After sideboard the gameplan of most opponents will be to kill all of your creatures and usually have a fair amount of instant-speed removal like Ultimate Price, Murderous Cut, Abzan Charm, Crackling Doom, or Surge of Righteousness. Of the combo pieces I like Become Immense the most, as it hits the hardest as a spell on its own.
This the updated list that I'm considering for #SCGINVI:
I like having a number of creatures to bring in to combat the opponent overloading on removal spells. Duress is also commonly cast against you from the black decks so try to cast your non-creature spells early. Going up on your creature count also helps in that regard. The third Temur Battle Rage comes in against decks like Four-Color Rally that have trouble with the combo while you have trouble punching through their littered board.
I see lists with four of each Roast and Rending Volley and consider those numbers to be way too high. Rending Volley is good against Mantis Rider and Anafenza, the Foremost, but for the most part, Fiery Impulse kills the white and blue creature's anyway. Hitting a Dragonlord Ojutai is good and all, but overloading on situational removal when you're an aggro deck isn't where you want to be.
There's currently a lot of blend-over among decks and it's pretty rare that I sideboard the same way even when it's against the same archetype. For example, Esper decks could favor Dragons, Tokens, Control, or Prowess so much that it will have to be done on the fly. It's also possible to go light on the combo then go hard on it if there's a game 3, so keep that in mind. This is roughly how I sideboard against the popular matchups.
VS Abzan Aggro
Rending Volley is good against Anafenza, the Foremost and Shambling Vent but otherwise fairly dead, so I only like bringing in one against them. Abzan rarely has a sweeper like Languish, and in low numbers if they do, so I recommend just playing out your hand in case you need to push through a big creature. Murderous Cut is a good weapon against you from them, making your combo weak if they have four or more cards in their graveyard. I tend to jam against them given the chance and make them have the right answer at the right time before they can pull ahead with double Siege Rhino.
VS Atarka Red
There's a lot of jabbing and juking and jiving in the matchup with both players trying to set up their knockout punch without getting hit by the opponent's. If you don't think your opponent has their own Hooting Mandrills, then the Roasts are unnecessary. On the play you can sometimes just stick to the combo and go down low on removal. On the draw I like the above sideboarding, and it's also pretty safe to go this way on the play too.
VS Esper Control
Fiery Impulse gets a slight nod over Wild Slash because it can hit a Shambling Vent, which is actually pretty tough to attack into. They are really slow, and I generally like jamming the combo into open mana. If they load up on Duress after sideboard, it's alright to cut a land to keep your spell density a bit higher.
VS Jeskai Black
Radiant Flames is their best card, and Painful Truths is a pretty embarrassing card for them game 1. You need a lot of Shocks to remove both Soulfire Grand Master and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, sometimes multiple times if they're also casting Kolaghan's Command or Ojutai's Command. They're pretty good at disrupting your combo at instant speed, but sometimes you need to just go for it and hope.
VS Four-Color Rally
I didn't originally think that this matchup was good, but it doesn't seem so bad after playing it a couple times. Atarka's Command is really good to make your small creatures match up better against their slightly bigger creatures. They're really low on spells to interact with your combo since they have to pack their deck so dense with creatures. Killing Jace and not making a poor attack into Collected Company are the keys to winning here.
Developing Naya Prowess
I do wish there was a slightly better two-drop to play in the deck. I also wish there was another good anthem effect like Atarka's Command to go with the tokens, as I think tokens are pretty good right now. Adding white for Seeker of the Way and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar could the solution I'm looking for.
White opens up plenty of options. Dromoka's Command is a very powerful card, as is Monastery Mentor, so those could be good in the maindeck too. Kytheon, Hero of Akros could be another one-drop to push the early aggression and flip early along with the tokens and haste creatures. Battlefield Forge into Kytheon into double Monastery Swiftspear sounds like a dream come true. It clashes a bit with GIdeon, Ally of Zendikar, so I'm hesitant on adding it.
Defiant Strike is a card that I've always loved and am excited to play again. It's likely that cutting the Titan's Strengths and the Become Immenses is wrong, but I'm willing to take that chance. Perhaps the final list will have a few of them back in, but there are just more options that I want to explore first.
With the Top 8 of #SCGINVI being Standard, it's clear that finding a great Standard deck is the first priority. Unsurprisingly, I'm fond of an aggressive deck choice for this weekend. Sixteen rounds of swiss can take a toll on a person, and slipping into a draw bracket can be a more disastrous downward spiral than usual. Having extra time between rounds is nice, and saving mental energy during long days helps you play better in the later rounds. The #SCGINVI is not a tournament to pick up a new deck, but rather the time to play your best archetypes against opponents with their best.
At least that's what's worked for me in the past. Here's to hoping it works again.